8.07.2013

OR report: The line in the sand

Maybe you saw the news.   

The headlines were all about "riots" after a rash of window breaking, fighting, car kicking and portapotty tipping at the Vans US Open of Surfing last week.   

But the inside line was different.   While the mainstream media and everpresent iPhones covered the street carnage in detail, the surfing media turned their wrath on over-promotion and the dilution of the sport's soul. 
The Inertia was relatively calm about it, letting the pictures tell the story (LINK) of a culture that is losing the battle to big business.

Others were less subtle. The Epic TV surf report aired multiple grievances about the event (LINK), like how the incidents were "the result of trying to sell surfing to people who don't actually surf."   And how the "industry" should realize it's all of their own making:  "Dear surf industry.  Quit blaming others for the "riot" in HB.  Own up to it.  You brought "the fans" here. If they surf or not is a non issue."   

To pit surfers vs. non surfers, and industry vs. reality, you've got to draw a big line in the sand. Unfortunately, it's a little late for that.

A thousand miles away from the weak waves and heavy partying of Huntington Beach, the idea of a cultural divide was on more than a few lips at last week's Outdoor Retailer show in Salt Lake City. 

On one side of the line were folks who felt like the big tent of "Outdoor" had finally gotten too big, as proven by decidedly non-core products and brands filling many of the gaps in an ever-growing OR show.   With what felt like a sizable upswing in brand diversity, as well as complaints about the host venue and city, the Outdoor faithful talked a lot in the aisles about a move to Las Vegas  -- a possibility that's not nearly as far away as it once felt.   At the same time, people openly wondered if a move would mean that the show and "industry" would finally be jumping the shark.

On the other side, there were folks who saw the idea of constraining Outdoor growth as not just elitist, but also economically suicidal.   What litmus test could honestly decide what's truly Outdoor when core brands are already happily selling barbecue shirts and yoga pants?  Seniority?  Child, please.

Maybe consciously, maybe not, the dividing line was virtually exposed in Backcountry.com's new brand video ... a luscious, spectacular piece of work that pretty much sums it up.  

Riding the tagline "when you're ready to suck the bloody marrow from this bone we call life, we're ready for you," the video aspires to draw a line in the sand. It embraces the idea of being a litmus test -- shooting for consumers who get it, while casting aside those who don't.  At once pulse-pounding and textbook elitist ... I love the thing (other than the tagline), and can't stop watching it.

But while marketing videos can be fantasy and still sell reality, the rest of us have to deal. Regardless of the axe-grinding at OR about hotels and restaurants and booth locations and (fill in the blank with complaint here), the ultimate question is whether or not to move the show after the contract expires in 2016 ... and if so, where.   

It's a hard conversation to have with someone you love ... but maybe it's time to just ask.  Does this convention center makes my trade show look too big?

With a quick look at the numbers, and a couple easy assumptions -- that the show will continue to grow, that Anaheim and Orlando are both too Disneyfied, and that no massive convention center expansions are on the horizon -- the path seems pretty direct to a suite at Mandalay Bay.

679,000 sq. ft 

584,000 sq, ft. (-14%)

815,000 sq. ft. (+20%)

2.1 million sq. ft (+220%)

2.1 million sq. ft (+220%)

With triple the space at the LVCC, there's clearly plenty of room for Outdoor to have it's way in the desert.  

But with triple the space, what does the future of Outdoor look like?  Does it thrive with the growth and addition of more vertical segments like fishing, bike, ski and surf?   Or does it go another way, as one veteran trade media editor predicted last week, with the addition of RVs, ATVs, and power boats?

In either case, it's time to understand exactly where that line in the sand lies.